The British government is working with France to unblock the border “as fast as possible,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday afternoon.
In an effort to stem the spread of a new variant of the CCP virus from the UK, the French government suspended all travel from the UK for 48 hours from 11 p.m. Sunday night (midnight Paris time), including travel linked to goods transport by road, air, sea, or rail.
Following the border closure, the UK government came under pressure from retailers, who warned that prolonged suspension of cross-Channel transport would disrupt supplies of fresh produce to UK consumers over the festive period.
Talking at a press conference in Downing Street on Monday, Johnson said the UK government was “working with our friends across the Channel to unblock the flow of trade as fast as possible.”
Johnson said he had just had a “very good call” with French President Emmanuel Macron, and that both leaders “want to resolve these problems as fast as possible” so that lorries can travel in both directions.
French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said on Monday morning that a Europe-wide health protocol would be established within hours to ensure that movement from the UK can resume.
The Prime Minister said the UK fully understands other countries’ anxieties about the new variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, but stressed that “the risks of transmission by a solitary driver sitting alone in the cab are really very low.”
He also emphasised that “the vast majority of food, medicines and other supplies are coming and going as normal,” as the travel ban only affects human-handled freight, which accounts for just 20 percent of the total arriving from or departing to the European continent.
He said “everyone can continue to shop normally,” as British supermarkets had said their supply chains are “strong and robust.”
Johnson said the UK government had been well prepared for the border closure, because it had been preparing for years for possible post-Brexit travel disruptions in southeast England.
The UK had acted decisively to curb the spread of the new COVID-19 variant, he said. “We lodged all the necessary information with the World Health Organisation, and we took prompt and decisive action the very next day to curb the spread of the variant within the UK.”
He added that “half a million people in the UK have now received their first dose” of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Britain began vaccinating people against the CCP virus on Dec. 8, becoming the first country to roll out the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Lily Zhou contributed to this report.